Childless step-parenting not an easy job

Step-parenting can make you crazy, especially if you have never had your own children. You want your partner’s offspring to fill that baby-yearning hole in your life, but they have their own mother and father and you are neither one.

To them you’re a stranger who showed up late and wants to claim a family connection. You’re a lot like the substitute teacher who knows nothing about what they were doing with their regular teacher and whom they don’t have to obey because she’s only here for a few days. Your partner may or may not help you make the connection. He has known them longer than he has known you. They are flesh of his flesh—and you’re not. You come from a different family with different traditions and different memories. You’re the puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit.

I’m not the only one who has called herself the Wicked Stepmother. Turns out that’s quite common. You just pray the kids laugh when you say it.

I have been looking through old files and just read through a fat one from my days when my youngest stepson lived with us, his older sister stayed with us intermittently, and his older brother lived in various places. It was tricky. I had the responsibilities of a mom, whether it was conferring with teachers, baking cookies for Boy Scouts, or taking my stepson to the doctor. We were tied down. If my husband and I wanted to go out, we couldn’t just leave him in the backyard with a bowl of water like a dog. We had to find a babysitter or stay home.

My friends insisted I claim motherhood on Mother’s Day. But to my stepson, I was just “Sue.” He resisted my attempts to hug him or to connect him with my own family.

Since my husband and his ex never officially changed the custody agreement, his real mom could reclaim him at any time. Besides, it was obvious I had no experience at being a mother and didn’t know what I was doing.

Reading my old journals makes me squirm. I sound resentful and selfish. “The kid won’t obey me.” “He wrecked my car.” “None of them remembered me on Mother’s Day.” “I’m trying to work, and I keep getting interrupted.” I’m human. I’m not Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music,” taking in all those kids with nothing but love and selflessness. But there were moments of love, too, times when I tearfully thanked Fred for giving me this family.

When you marry someone who has been married before, he or she will probably have children. He or she may not want anymore. They want you, but they don’t want to do babies again. Been there, done that. They are happy to offer you the children they already have, but it’s not the same, is it?

Today my stepchildren are all adults. The daughter is not only a mother but a grandmother. Since Fred died, we don’t talk; we Facebook. I’m proud of their accomplishments. I don’t know what our connection is now, if any, but I hope they know I tried. I really tried.

It’s not the same as having your own babies. That’s just not possible. But it’s something. As long as people keep getting married multiple times, stepchildren will be part of the picture.

Here’s an interesting report by the PEW Research Center on marriage and remarriage.

I have received a lot of comments lately about step-parenting. Previous posts on the subject include: “Stepchildren and Holidays Always a Tricky Mix,” “Must Childless Stepmothers and Their Stepchildren Hate Each Other?” “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages,” “Sometimes Stepchildren are All Right,” and “What Am I to My Stepchildren Now That My Husband has Died?”  There are even more. Use the search box at upper right to find more posts about stepchildren or whatever you want to read about.

Let the conversation continue. How has it been for you?

 

 

 

 

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Stepchildren and holidays always a tricky mix

Thanksgiving is next week. Christmas follows shortly after. Will your stepchildren be with you or their biological parents? Holidays get tricky when two sets of parents claim the kids, shuttling them back and forth according to the terms of custody agreements.

I feel for the children. Back in the days before Fred’s youngest turned 18, he was always coming or going. For years, his mother lived in Texas and we were in California, so he flew back and forth, often arriving with headaches and an upset stomach from the stress of traveling alone and facing a different family.

When he came to San Jose, we would take him to my family’s holiday gatherings, but the poor boy didn’t know half those people, and suddenly he was expected to call near-strangers Grandma and Grandpa or Aunt and Uncle. Here are your cousins, kid. No, they weren’t.

If he stayed with his mother, then he had to deal with her boyfriend’s people and he didn’t get to see his dad. After he moved in with us, his mother would take him away just when he probably wanted to stay home with his friends and his toys. She and the kids partied together while Fred and I cooked a turkey for just the two of us.

Meanwhile, looking at it from the view of the childless stepmother, having Fred’s son with us at family parties gave me a certain legitimacy, especially if his older siblings joined us. See, I’ve got the whole package, the husband and the children, just like everyone else. When they were with their mom, we were the childless ones who didn’t fit in. Sometimes we all got together, bio- and step-families. That was weird, all of us making nice and pretending we were family.

The best Christmas of my life was the one where somehow we had all the Lick children and grandchildren, plus my parents, at our house. I don’t remember why, but nobody had to leave for another party that day. I remember music, laughter, wrapping paper and ribbons everywhere, and smells of turkey and pumpkin pie. I remember little ones calling me “Grandma” as we sat at the piano singing “Rum pa pum pum.” It never happened quite like that again.

When I was growing up, everyone came to our house, both sets of grandparents, my aunts and uncles and their kids. No one was divorced. Nobody had anyplace else to go. My mom said grace and thanked God for everyone being there. Dad plagued us with the bright lights of the movie camera, and we celebrated as one happy family. Things are so different now. Complicated.

Step-relationships are often troubled. Has anyone heard, “Leave me alone! You’re not my mother (or father)!”? Who hasn’t? Sometimes it’s easier to get through the holidays when the kids are somewhere else. Sometimes it just hurts. You buy presents and get nothing back. You watch the bio-parents get all the love. You hug the dog and wish the holidays were over. Right?

Of course sometimes, the holidays are great. The kids are great. You feel blessed.

So, how is it for you? If you have stepchildren, how do you handle the holidays? What are the best parts and the worst parts? If you were a stepchild, what was that like? Feel free to vent here in the comments.

Stepparents caught between two worlds

In response to my Halloween request for subjects folks want to discuss here, Evil SM commented last week:

In thinking about my biggest concerns as a childless woman that I’d love to discuss with other women who “get it”, I’d say it’s definitely the tension between feeling 100% childless and still having to reconcile the relationship with my stepkids. I’m not going to lie, I’m very resentful, and am trying to make my peace with it all. Sometimes I want to embrace having no children, and then there are my husband’s kids. I feel stuck between two worlds, and no matter how much I have given to them, tried to feel something parental towards them, I just don’t. But, I can’t say that. I have to put on a mask and pretend I feel like a certain way about them and my role, or lack of, in their lives. Some days it eats me alive. I have most, if not all, the responsibility of a parent, and none of the warm feelings. Like you, Sue, we are custodial. My husband expects that if/when the kids have kids I will feel like, or want to feel like, a grandparent, and that’s just not my truth. In the beginning of our relationship I thought I wanted a baby, but for some reason that changed and now I’m almost completely on the other side of the fence, though I still have some of those baby blues days. I feel more childless with my husband and his kids than I would otherwise. It’s constantly in my face. Anyone else feel this way?

I do, Evil SM. My stepchildren are all grown now, and with my husband gone, I rarely see them, except on Facebook. But I remember those feelings. To be accurate, only the youngest of Fred’s three lived with us. Sometimes I felt like his mother. Sometimes I felt like I was co-parenting with Fred’s ex. Sometimes I felt like a mother, but more often I felt like a babysitter who had no idea what she was doing. I loved him, but I’m not sure how he felt about me. I was always aware that he had a “real mom” who had first dibs on him.

As for the other two, we tried, but that warm fuzzy feeling proved elusive. I’m watching my words here because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or start a war. (We have enough problems with the fallout from the election.) They just didn’t feel like my own family. Even when I became a step-grandmother, it was like I was playing a role. I wish we could have made it one big happy family. I wanted that so bad. But they weren’t mine. So now I “like” their Facebook posts, send Christmas and birthday greetings, and pray for them every day.

To Michael, Gretchen, Ted (and Shelly), if you read this, I love you and miss you and feel so far away. You haven’t reached out, and I’m afraid that if I reach out to you, I will be rejected.

Oh, God, I feel as if I have opened myself up too much here. Thanks a lot, Evil Stepmother. 🙂 I used to call myself that, too. Thank God the kids laughed.

So, readers, it’s your turn. Many of us have stepped into relationships that include children from previous partners. Does the presence of these offspring make you feel worse about not having your own children or does it ease the pain? How do you get along? Can you love them like your own? What gets in the way of that?

Let’s open up this can of worms and see what’s inside. It might take more than one post. You can be as anonymous as you need to be. Me, not so much.

Thank you for being here and sharing with me.

 

 

 

 

 

Graduation and the childless stepparent

It’s graduation season. Does the thought make you feel a little queasy because your stepchildren are graduating and you don’t know where you fit in? Welcome to the club. I know you don’t all have stepchildren, but enough do that graduation issues are starting to come up in the comments. Graduation can certainly magnify the awkwardness in the family when there are both biological parents and stepparents.

Let me share some of my experiences.

The first graduate was my stepdaughter Gretchen, who had dropped out of high school when she got pregnant with her first child and went to an “adult school” to finish her classes while she was pregnant with her second child. Her mother was living in Texas, so the “family” that attended was her father, her brothers, and me, the new wife. Honestly, it went great. I took lots of pictures and had this warm mushy feeling that I finally had a family. Whatever arguments we had had before didn’t matter.

I was also the mom on duty when Michael, my youngest stepson, graduated from middle school a few years later. Again, his mother was not there, but my parents joined us for the outdoor ceremony. I was working for the local paper and ran around taking pictures for a story, split between my roles as reporter and mom. I loved it.

Four years later, when that same stepson graduated from high school, everyone was there: Fred and I, Michael’s siblings, my parents, his mother and HER parents, all sitting in the bleachers on the football field. Now, this was June in San Jose, so we were dressed in our summer clothes. The few clouds overhead were a welcome relief from days of relentless heat. But shortly after they got through the L’s and Michael received his diploma, the clouds turned black and it started to rain, a hard soaking deluge that sent people scattering for shelter.

At that time, Fred, Michael and I lived across the street from the high school, and the party was happening at our house. I handed my mom my keys and asked her to put the lasagna in the oven while we looked for Michael. Soon we were all gathered at our house, and I was handing out towels. Although things could have been weird, we all got along and felt like one big happy family, laughing over the rained-out ceremony.

Of course there are always those awkward moments. “This is my mom, this my dad, this is my, um . . . .” Know what I mean?

Years later, when Gretchen’s daughter Stephanie graduated from high school, I wasn’t there. Fred was in a nursing home, and my nephew was graduating from a college nearby on the same day. I went to his ceremony instead. There was still time afterwards to get to Stephanie’s graduation, but I was riding with my dad and he didn’t want anything to do with my step-family. (Someday soon I should do a post on the relationship between our own parents and our stepchildren. Now there’s a tricky relationship.) Anyway, I missed it.

And when Gretchen graduated from college a few years ago, I was widowed and living in Oregon and was not invited. Nor did I expect to be, even though I’m very proud of her. I’m proud of all of them, but sometimes that “step” between us is huge, especially with their father gone.

None of the kids came to my late-life master’s-degree graduation from Antioch University in Los Angeles. Fred was the only family there while other grads had big groups, including their children. But then if I had children, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school.

Enough about me. Graduation can be tough. When your stepchildren graduate, whether it’s from kindergarten, high school or Harvard, are you pitted against their biological family? Are you not invited? Are you expected to smile, give gifts, and be the hostess for kids who aren’t your own? To make nice with people you can’t stand? Are you gulping back tears because you may never watch your own children graduate? When you hear the band play “Pomp and Circumstance,” do you think back to your own graduations and how you never imagined things would turn out the way they have?

Let’s talk about it. You can let it all out here. I look forward to your comments.

Childless stepmothers offer support

Many of us who are childless by marriage are also stepmothers to children from our husband’s previous marriages. It’s a difficult role. I have heard about step-relationships that are sweet and wonderful, but most of us find it a bit rocky. You may not get along with the biological mother. The kids may resent you and keep reminding you that “You’re not my mother.” If you have no children of your own, they are a constant reminder of that fact, plus a lack of experience with kids may make it harder to be an effective parent.

I don’t think I did a great job of step-parenting. My husband was a hands-off kind of dad who did not push to spend time with his kids and grandkids. I didn’t give much of myself to them either. Now that he’s gone, I rarely hear from any of them. If we weren’t Facebook friends, I’d have no idea what’s going on in their lives.

Speaking of Facebook, I recently stumbled into the Childless Stepmothers Support Group there. Its members share their problems and experiences, along with advice and sympathy.The postings are frequent and fascinating. If you’re struggling as a childless stepparent, you might want to do a search for it and join. Only members can see what’s posted there.

Also take a look at StepTalk.org, which bills itself as “the place where stepparents come to vent.”

Another site to try is StepDivas.com Only stepmothers who don’t have biological children are allowed join, and postings are private.